A GROWING CONCERN: Cut flowers like a pro

  • By Andrew May For Peninsula Daily News
  • Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:30am
  • Life

Last week, we learned about pinching and deadheading as a means to create far more flower for a greater duration. So what could one do with all of these flowers?

Of course, make gorgeous arrangements for you and your friends. Often, however, the delight of having lovely arrangements from your yard has dissipated by the next day as the container water turns cloudy, develops a less-than-appealing odor and the flowers wilt.

Fear not — a few tricks and fundamental understanding of your freshly cut flowers can turn those bouquets into a week of gratitude.

Haste makes flower waste. A big mistake some gardeners make is thinking that the faster you cut and get the blooms arranged, the longer they will last. Not so.

Flowers and ornamental greens require a period of conditioning if you want them to last for days rather than hours. Conditioning, a treatment you do to cut flowers after they are harvested and before they are arranged, isn’t difficult, but does vary greatly from one flower to another.

For the most part, it involves immersing the cuttings in water for 12 to 24 hours. Carry water out to the cutting fields and immediately upon harvesting, put them into the first drink tank.

Always cut your flowers, stems and greens at a slant, preferably at a 45-degree angle. This angle opens a greater surface area for water absorption but also keeps the just-picked stalk from resting flat on the bottom of the container.

Don’t pack your flowers too tightly. A loosely placed bunch of flowers can breathe, and potential disease problems won’t occur immediately.

Remember the plant when you cut your flowers, too. Don’t cut the flowers or leaves (for greens) at the desired length for the arrangement. Instead, cut it at the best place for the plant to encourage more blooms and tighter, compact plants.

Cutting too short or too long can damage the plants severely and lengthen time to rebloom, or bring about premature death or dormancy. After you have moved on to arranging, you can select long stems or cut them back to ideal length.

Be sure your containers and harvest buckets are cleaned well between uses with soap and water. If containers are dirty, bacteria starts to breed at phenomenal rates and will quickly plug up the small conducting tubes in the stem that transport the water upwards.

Keep your knife, scissors and pruners extremely sharp. A nice, clean surgical cut won’t crush the small water tubes — and again, water can flow more easily.

After the flowers are cut, placed loosely in lukewarm water and carried into the house or garden shed, the conditioning starts.

Take the blooms, one at a time, and leaf-strip them. This involves removing the leaves low on the stem that will be down in the water of the vase or will obscure other flowers in the bouquet.

As a general rule, only the top leaves are left. This is crucial— not only are lower leaves the first to suck up water, but they are also the first to rot , causing clogging bacteria and stench.

Your next move is to tip away any plume-type flowers such as delphiniums, snapdragons, gladiolus, celosia, salvia, lupine, liatris or astilbe. By completely removing the last few buds on these, you eliminate the curl-over or droop associated with these blooms. This also allows the rest of the buds to fully develop into a magnificent flowerhead.

In the case of woody stem plants, such as ornamental fruit, hydrangeas, wisteria or willows, split the stem up ½ inch with a sharp knife. This helps water rise up the stem. In the case of milky or very sappy plants such as milkweed, daylily or peonies, char the ends in an open flame immediately upon cutting — and again if the stalk is trimmed for an arrangement. After these tasks are done, place the flowers up to their necks in cold water this time.

Now go out, harvest your flowers and become your own private florist. But for today, don’t forget your dad on Father’s Day and please, stay well all.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected]

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